It was, briefly, the zeitgeist’s perfect Silicon Valley story: a sex-and-drugs party hosted hosted by since-ousted top-tier VC Steve Jurvetson, at an official Draper Fisher Jurvetson event,attended by multiple billionaires including Elon Musk. So said Paul Biggar, founder of CircleCI, in a widely read Medium post, expanding on Vanity Fair’s excerpt of Emily Chang’s new book.
(To be clear, it was Axios who subsequently named Jurvetson and DFJ.)
Is that actually what happened? Did a major Valley VC firm host a decadent sex-and-MDMA party as part of one of its official events smack in the midst of last year’s widespread sexual-harassment revelations? Uhhhhhh. Well. As it turns out, not so much. Biggar notes that he didn’t actually see anything outrageous or salacious happening by the time he left, and, it seems others have vouched that, afterwards … such things continued to not happen:
In fairness to Chang, she was writing about secret Valley sex parties in general, mentioned in passing that “while some parties may be devoted primarily to drugs and sexual activity, others may boast just pockets of it,” and cited this particular event — and a woman there being given drugs by one man, and then hit on by another in an inappropriate and exploitative way — as an example.
So what happened at that party? It sounds like the answer is “at least two instances of shitty behavior which are basically, infuriatingly, pretty typical examples of how the tech industry treats women.” But it also sounds like it was basically a fairly tame, if themed and Burning-Man-ish, event which some culturally conservative people saw and immediately misinterpreted as a sex party.
Which is exactly why I call it the perfect Silicon Valley story: everyone is looking for lightning-rod reasons to hate the Valley right now. The sex-party narrative is like a Rorschach excuse. Right-wingers can condemn it as an example of tech’s corrupt, decadent liberalism. Leftists can excoriate it as an instance of tech’s bone-deep sexism and exploitative hegemony of privileged white men.
This is just one especially vivid example. Slings and arrows from across the political spectrum are being aimed at tech. Liberals point out that it has treated women abominably for decades, while Asians face a “bamboo ceiling” and other nonwhite people are all but excluded; they blame Facebook for the election, Twitter for allowing Donald Trump and neo-nazis to run rampant, Amazon and Google for avoiding taxes, etc.
Conservatives, meanwhile, accuse tech of a lack of “viewpoint diversity” — which bespeaks a bizarre miscomprehension that their belief systems are rejected purely because they’re different, when in fact they are rejected because climate-change denialism, and denying the systemic oppression of people who weren’t born white men, are as demonstrably & morally incorrect as e.g. flat-eartherism and eugenics, and treated accordingly. Slightly more plausibly, they accuse Facebook of censoring conservative news, while targeting Twitter for shadow-banning right-wingers.
But wait, there’s more! As the rent crisis wracks America, its victims, desperate for affordable housing in desirable places, hate the tech industry for gentrifying the cities — San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, NYC, Boston, etc — where people most want to live.
Meanwhile, as the media hemorrhages money, it becomes ever more reliant on Facebook and Google — even as that duopoly devours most of the advertising dollars that used to go to the media. And as both media and finance go tech, East Coasters (and Londoners) see that their center-of-the-universe influence, which they once thought unassailable, has moved to California and beyond. Is it really that surprising, when you follow the money, that the American media’s love affair with the tech industry is coming to a bitter and increasingly furious end?
The reason why is obvious. We have the money, now. Seven of the ten largest publicly traded companies in the world are tech companies, and three of them are headquartered within cycling distance of one another in Silicon Valley, surrounded by a nimbus of dozens of unicorns. With that wealth comes huge (at least perceived) power — not just financial, but the power to shape the future, to influence the masses, to shape mass political movements.
Do you see a lot of popular narratives whose heroes are privileged, unelected engineers and investors whose previously sizable wealth has grown into immense riches and enormous power? Uh, no. In fact you may have noticed that, in virtually every popular story, such people are the bad guys. There’s a reason for that: historically, power corrupts.
People everywhere are already eager for lightning-rod trumped-up reasons to hate the Valley and the tech industry as a whole. And it’s not like we haven’t given them at least a few real ones. So it might be time to start thinking less about money and power, and more about values, and how we might actually make sacrifices in service of those values — because history indicates that blatant, widespread hypocrisy is one of several effective ways to transform a lightning rod into an angry mob wielding pitchforks and torches.